“Dallas Buyers Club”– Not for Cowboys (or, A Lone Star in the Fight against AIDS)

 

Jared Leto as Rayon

Jared Leto as Rayon

The true-life story of Texas AIDS pioneer, Ron Woodroof,  set in 1985 Dallas, depicts his battle to fight for his life after being diagnosed as HIV-positive. His search for life-supporting  experimental drugs via Mexico to help fellow HIV-positive people is the heart of “Dallas Buyers Club“.

Part-time rodeo bull rider Ron Woodroof (the skeletal Matthew McConaughey in an Academy Award-nominated performance) is rudderless–smoking heavily, snorting cocaine, having a lot of sex with prostitutes. He is also grossly unsympathetic for his racism and homophobia. While in the hospital on a work-related injury, the doctors inform him that he is HIV+, and that he probably has only thirty days to live.

In denial, and assuming that AIDS is exclusively a disease for “faggots”, Woodroff refuses to give up hope and begins to do research on experimental treatments. Ron begins to smuggle drugs not approved by the FDA into the US. In an unexpected business partnership with a transvestite named Rayon (the striking Jared Leto), the two AIDS patients establish a “buyers club” which does not, theoretically, sell drugs but rather disperses them to its members. Dr. Eve Saks (played by Jennifer Garner), one of Ron’s doctors, is caught between hospital policy and empathy for her patients but decides to help their cause.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is character-driven as well as plot-driven, focusing on the relationship between Woodroof and Rayon, polar opposites who need and want each other.  The performances are remarkable, perhaps as much  for the costumes and physical transformation as for the acting. McConaughey lost over forty pounds, rendering him virtually unrecognizable and painful to watch.  Leto, also nominated for an Academy Award, is wafer-thin, dressing up in over-the-top attire and makeup.  As Rayon, Leto delivers  a much more likable, even humorous, character and matches McConaughey’s intensity scene for scene.

Because of a tightly woven narrative and excellent performances by all members of the cast, this indie film presents the thematic threads of government corruption, big pharmaceutical profits, and homophobia without hyperbole and pandering.  An excellent choice for the Academy Awards!

 

“Falling” —In and Out of Love

Falling, the movie

Falling

A post-Valentine’s Day sleeper about romance with a Hitchcockian twist,  “Falling” is a story based on the real-life experience of the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Howard was courageous in exposing her vulnerability in this absorbing story originally produced for British television and now available on Netflix.

Middle-aged novelist Daisy (Penelope Wilton, the fabulous classical actress of Downton Abbey and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” fame), is  heartbroken by her husband’s infidelity and subsequent dissolution of her marriage. Escaping to her remote country cottage to write and heal her wounds, Daisy soon becomes smitten by Henry (Michael Kitchen, “Foyle’s War”), a charming gardener who lives in a dilapidated barge near the canal facing her cottage.   Despite the suspicions of her literary agent and other close friends, Daisy is in a fragile state and she allows Henry to stay in the house while she is in London.  She gradually falls in love with him, even though his considerable caregiving makes her uneasy.

Penelope Wilton and Michael Kitchen are gifted actors and deliver intelligent,  nuanced performances in a narrative that may otherwise be somewhat unbelievable.  “Falling” is full of surprises, vacillating between mystery thriller and romance.   Just a glimpse in a single scene can radically change your sympathy for a character.  I loved it!

 

Hi from Ojai!

Ojai

We are always looking for a mini-vacation no more than four or five hours drive from Monterey. Several weeks ago we had the wonderful experience of staying at the historic Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, a glorious oasis directly east of Ventura. The wonderful climate of the Ojai Valley draws celebrities and regular folk to  rejuvenate their health in a sanctuary of tranquility at the spa or on the vast grounds where tropical birds in large cages talk to you in hilarious repetitions of whatever you say.

The trails –especially the Pratt Loop–are easy and long, with sweeping vistas of the valley below.  Along the well-maintained trails we picked avocadoes and oranges that drooped  from orchards nearby. Surrounded by hills and mountains, the Ojai Valley Inn celebrates the “Pink Moment” when the sunset casts a pink glow onto the hillside for all to enjoy while drinking a glass of wine from one of the Ojai Valley vineyards.

Although we were at the Inn during the “low season” the concierge service was truly imaginative and helpful.  We were able to take an acrylic painting class at the dedicated “Artist Cottage”.  Ojai does indeed nurture its art and artists with the  Ojai Center for the Arts, downtown galleries featuring both local and international artists, Ojai Studio Artists Tour and Art in the Park. Artist Cottage

A combination of art and wine can be seen on the  side streets and fine restaurants are scattered throughout.   In addition, there are many annual events like the Ojai Film Festival,  a cineaste’s destination (every November).

One of our most enjoyable activities was a private cooking class arranged through PalatePro in the back kitchen of Azu, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  We were lucky to be their first students. Chef Chris supervised our preparation of dates wrapped in bacon and stuffed with chorizo, brie drizzled with honey,  sautéed scallops with lemon and capers, spicy mussels,  kale Caesar salad with polenta croutons, filet tacos, and a pear tart all served in a private dining room. I’ll be posting some food photos soon! Azu was a blast.   Keep that in mind in light of my warning below.  I highly recommend Ojai as a retreat away from home, so close and yet a world away!  One note of caution:  Do NOT go to the hotel restaurant at the Ojai Valley Inn when the chef has his days off (Mondays and Tuesdays).  The food was terrible!